It's been perhaps the strangest Sharks October in several years. The team made it to the Western Conference final for just the second time in its history last May and did not make any significant changes to its roster with the exception of change of guard in goal. And yet pretty much the same roster of players that finished 1st in the West in the regular season back in April had the slowest start since the lockout. With 5-3-1 record, this has been perhaps a frustrating October for hockey fans in the Bay Area. It was a total opposite of the October two years ago when Sharks went 9-1 under new coach Todd McLellan. The team had a chance to improve its record through the first 10 games last night, but still fell short.
Yet a sample of 10 games gives us a reason to look back and observe what we have seen so far and what may lay ahead as the seasons develops. Here are a few random thoughts about the current state of San Jose Sharks.
- Great Start for New Captain. I was not surprised when Joe Thornton was named a captain after Rob Blake retired. After all, he's been the most consistent and productive Shark ever since he joined the team almost five years ago. Sharks usually do as well as Thornton does. The new Captain did not disappoint and has 15 points in the first 10 games, including an uncharacteristic five goals, which means he's on pace to score 41 this season. Joe is also second in the league in shooting percentage, with 31.3%. If captaincy is what Joe Thornton needed to motivate him to shoot more, why didn't the Sharks gave it to him earlier?
- Tank is Still Selling Out. One of the great local stories here in Bay Area was San Francisco Giants who won the World Series and are celebrating at the city parade right now. The Giants have a long history, but have not seen too much of post season in the last few years. The media and the fans got behind them quickly, and baseball chatter is still heard everywhere around the Bay Area. This could also be the reason why we here at Fear the Fin are seeing an unusually slow traffic this time of the year. Yet with all that, the Sharks still sold out their first four home games, including the night when Giants were playing in Game 1 of the World Series while the Sharks faced the worst team in the league, New Jersey Devils. I was at the game and while there were empty seats near us, it was mostly due to fans watching the Giants and the Sharks at the same time in arena bars. San Jose still loves its Sharks.
- Wallin - Sharks' Renteria? Speaking of the World Series, one of the great stories to follow was the performance of Edgar Renteria, whose contribution at most crucial times, including a game winning Home Run in Game 5, silenced all his critics. Before the World Series began, his presence on the team was frequently described as a failure - "he is too old and overpaid". However, his signing was clearly with post season in mind and he delivered. As I thought about this, I remembered that all of us have used this language describing the acquisition of Niclas Wallin. He's ancient, and he's making too much money. But he also has more game winning playoffs goals than anyone else on the Sharks' roster - three, and they all came in overtime. Perhaps one day we'll eat our words just like Renteria critics just did? We can hope.
- Octoberfail for Defense. The defense had perhaps the shakiest October of them all. There were games when they put up a solid performance, like in the past two games against the Ducks and the Wild, and then there were nights when we were wondering if they were playing under influence, like the nights against Carolina or Calgary. With change in goal and personnel, that's nothing to be surprised about. But so far they had as many good games as they had bad ones, and I still don't know what to think about their true abilities, especially come spring time. I imagine Plank still doesn't sleep at night.
- Back to Familiar Lines. After experimenting with the lineup without seeing results, Todd McLellan decided to go back to what was working last season and installed all the big weapons on the first line. Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau got reunited on what we around here call the HTML Line. The line quickly produced 10 goals in two games, but was held scoreless last night, so perhaps McLellan will continue experimenting. But offensively, not much has changed - on the nights the team is winning, Thornton's line is piling up points while. On the night they are held scoreless, Sharks generally lose. McLellan seems to think it's all Setoguchi's fault and he demoted him to 3rd-4th line role in yesterday's game. But at the same time, Clowe is not too visible in these games either. When was the last time we saw Ryane crushing the net or blocking goaltender's view? What McLellan will do next is impossible to predict, but I would guess he'll continue to keep the HTML together and tweak the other lines until Setoguchi and Clowe return to posing any kind of offensive threat. While we're used to seeing this from those two, how long can it last before one of them or both follow the pathway of Steve Bernier?
- Niitty's Month. Another story line of the October was a possible goaltender controversy in San Jose between Niemi and Niittymaki. McLellan decided not to mess with our mental health and ride the hot hand, as Niittymaki has been the better player of the two. His 1.75 GAA and .930 SV% after seven games is higher than any of us expected, especially behind weakened Sharks defense. Perhaps it's also something to do with defense allowing less shots, as they're now 3rd in the league in fewest shots allowed. That is a nice change from being 20th in the league in that category last season. For those who are wondering, Nabokov has 3.04 GAA and .888 SV% with SKA St. Petersburg after 14 games (having won just 5 of them).
- Power Play Dominance. If there was any consistency in the first 10 games, it was how dangerous the Sharks Power Play looked. They currently lead the league with 28.6% realization, with Minnesota Wild being in second place, despite generally poor power play from both teams in the game we saw yesterday. The PP units remained the same as they stood for the second half of last season, and they picked up where they left off last year when were the 3rd best power play in the league.
- 72 More Games to Play. With all that said, am I concerned about the inconsistency we have seen so far? Not really, as the Sharks didn't play the most consistent hockey this time last season. There is a lot of negativity we see here at Fear the Fin from the readers, especially after a loss, with some already giving up on this team. I'm not as negative, and I have no doubt this team will make the post season. Will they compete for another Western Conference Regular Season Champions banner? I really don't care at this point and I hope you don't as well. I don't think any one of close to two million GIants fan at the parade in the city right now remember how Giants played in August or May. The hockey goal is to be dominant in April-May-June, not October.